Joakim Achren, a Finnish entrepreneur, was one of the first entrepreneurs I met when we started ArcticStartup. He talked about his company Ironstar Helsinki with passion and of all the things they're building. Couple of weeks ago he posted a post mortem on his final touches to shut down the company and move on. He summarises the path they took with Ironstar Helsinki and outlines a couple of reasons why they decided to shut the company down, instead of pursuing other alternatives. We've also written about Ironstar Helsinki extensively, be it their product launch or the fact that Monty Widenius invested in the company in 2009.
The reasons that lead to the closure of the company were a failed acquisition and the failure to raise more funding this year. Nothing new there, but what I really respect with the all the emotional turbulence Achren must have gone through, is the effort he has taken to cover all this in a single blog post.
The Finnish social gaming firm Ironstar Helsinki has announced appointing a new CEO Tiina Zilliacus and expanding its platform reach to Facebook. Ironstar Helsinki runs a social gaming world MoiPal, which up until now has been available on the web and as a downloadable mobile application. MoiPal has currently 200.000 registered users in Finland along some international ones, and is now looking to accelerate the international growth.
Monty Widenius, one of the founders of MySQL whom later made a successful $1B exit, has invested through Open Ocean Capital to MoiPal - Ironstar Helsinki's social gaming world. We previously told Monty investing into Against Intuition.
“I am excited to invest in the MoiPal world and help it grow even faster in the future”, says Monty. “I have always been interested in virtual worlds and seen how the communities around them continue to grow. The thing that really stands out to me with MoiPal, is the way it combines the social networking aspects similar to Facebook, with the caring of your online character, like you do with Tamagotchis or in games like Sims. I am looking forward to adding educational aspects into the game, so that players learn useful things while they play. When you combine this with open interfaces and engage developers out there to expand our world in their own directions, I think we can achieve something really Great!”
“We are thrilled to have Monty on board”, says Joakim Achrén, founder of Ironstar Helsinki. “The investment will give us a stable ground for growing MoiPal to the top league." With such strong words from the founder - it can be argued that the investment is in the seven-figures, even though it is not disclosed.
MoiPal has gathered some 120 000 members during its first year of operations. The company has some interesting innovation in the pipeline as well, they are adding open API's for developers to leverage on the sprites in the game as well an Open Social Application approach so anyone can participate in extending the virtual world.
It seems that during the last 12 months we've reported on a lot more investments from well known investors than during the boom times. Congrats to the MoiPal team for scoring an excellent investment and a resource that Monty definitely is.
MoiPal, a Finland based social gaming virtual world by Ironstar Helsinki, has introduced widgets for music artists to sell MoiPal virtual goods to the virtual world users. MoiPal is not a localized virtual world like Habbo, which has started their community building from scratch in each new country. Instead MoiPal aims to create a common space where all nationalities mix and thus make the world seem more lively. MoiPal is also mainly intented to be played via mobile phones. According to MoiPal CEO, Joakim Achrén, focusing on mobile phones instead of the browser creates stickiness and users tend to come back much more often.
MoiPal has been working on virtual goods partnership all along 2008. These have mainly been with record labels and Finnish music artists, including Lovex, Hanoi Rocks and Lordi. What this means in practice is that the partnering artists have seen a MoiPal character creation widget appear on their website. If a MoiPal charater has been created through one of these websites, the character that has been created have been able to get virtual clothes and a look that resembles the one of the artist who's website is in question.
Through the partnership the artists get visibility in MoiPal virtual world when characters walk around in t-shirts and clothes that carry the artist logo and name. Artists can also perform a virtual concerts in MoiPal City, which is the center of the MoiPal virtual world. Currently Lordi, a Finnish heavy artist, is actively present in MoiPal and interacting with the users.
The latest development is selling virtual goods via a widget that sits on an artist website. MoiPal has confirmed its first deal that was done with EMI and EMI's up-and-coming new artist, Haloo Helsinki. With a Premium SMS message the users can buy their character a full blown Haloo Helsinki costume set. In addition to the 50/50 revenue share the record label can get visibility to their new acts.
MoiPal is currently in talks with all the major record labels for similar kind of deals. The virtual goods store -widget can also be placed on an artist MySpace profile page via OpenSocial that MySpace has implemented. This has also been experimented with two Finnish bands, namely Stigg Dogg and Notkea Rotta.
MoiPal has currently over 100,000 users. The service was launched in October 2007 and aim to hit over one million user mark by the end of 2009. The two biggest methods in building the virtual world for MoiPal are Facebook apps, of which they already have all together three, and getting visibility in artists' websites. Currently most of the new users come from South-East Asia. The service grows with approximately 600 new users a day.
If you feel a sudden urge to try out the service (here), by writing moilei or snoukka in the promotional code field ArcticStartup readers will get a free virtual t-shirt for their MoiPal character. Go play!
Reporting live from TechCrunch Brunch in Helsinki the morning following Slush. The theme for the morning's panel discussions are the implications of regionality and unique features in the Nordic startup scene.
The event was kicked off by Mike Butcher from TechCrunch UK and Ville Vesterinen from ArcticStartup, chatting a bit about Slush, its background and the Nordic startup environment in general.
The panelists (from left to right in the picture below):
Kai Lemmetty, Founder of Floobs
Janne Waltonen, Marketing director Fruugo
Mark Sorsa-Leslie, Managing director of Hammerkit
Jussi Laakkonen, CEO and president Everyplay.com
Leo Koivulehto, Co-founder and chairman, TripSay
Mike set the scene asking how the panelists see the startup scene in the Nordics, whether the environment is going to stay a tough place to do a startup due to relatively high living costs, difficulties with angel and VC funding etc. A few highlights below.
Mark stated he moved from the UK three years ago, and has been impressed with enthusiasm people have, the great engineering skills, and the passion to get things done in a practical manner. Janne continued the people in Nordic countries are quite modest, which is somewhat hindering international expansion
Janne mentioned the Nordic market's been traditionally about local startups thinking of local markets (Swedes being maybe somewhat different), which should end. As Janne put it, we really have all it takes if we have the will to take over.
Peter Vesterbacka commented the downturn is a perfect time to start a company as you have less competition and could be able to take over a lot of the potential customers in a swift. Furthermore, it's perfect to start in the Nordics, as "if you can make it in the slush you can make it anywhere". The current global economic environment it's actually not even that much different from the "normal" challenges up here.
Mike commented in London the startup world is focusing nowadays on revenues much earlier in the game. According to Janne startups should start marketing as soon as possible, and not really wait until their product is "ready". Traditionally the startups have relied perhaps too much on virality (beta invites etc.). Janne compared his experience between Fruugo and two Swedish startups he's been in, and noted Fruugo has really concentrated on not showing anything in public before they are sure their technical back-end is top notch, whereas the Swedish ones were really open since the beginning without even much knowledge about the technical side.
Stephen Lee from Muxlim added, as an American who's lived in Finland for 10 years, that the governmental systems supporting startups are built around the concept of startups having to prove themselves in Finland first, before getting further money to go abroad. According to Stephen this model doesn't really work anymore, and the organizations (and startups) should turn their focus on going global from the beginning.
Jussi answered arguing the Finnish game industry has gone global since the very beginning. Nowadays the industry is healthy and buzzing with 50+ companies with over 90% export ratio, so it's been proved already we can make it from here. Jussi continued the process for pitching a game concept to a games publisher is really similar to pitching a company to VCs, so there are people who have been pitching successfully and know their stuff.
The second panel focused around the topics of finding funding and how to cope in the downturn market.
The panelists (from left to right):
Helene Auramo, CEO and partner of Zipipop
Heikki Mäkijärvi, Venture parter of Accel Partners
Mohamed El-Fatatry, Founder and CEO of Muxlim
Joakim Achrén, founder of IronStar Helsinki
Kristoffer Lawson from Scred
The panel kicked off going through the current status of the startups - Scred and Zipipop are bootstrapping and looking for funding. Mohamed told Muxlim got very well seed money from Finnish angels, which are quite active and willing to help, but for big rounds the money is difficult to get and momentum can be lost. Muxlim run through 500 international VCs in 6 months, and finally landed with one from Sweden.
Regarding the economy, Heikki from Accel Partners encouraged startups to look critically their business in the current economic situation - if the customers are not buying, it may be worthwhile to stop and rethink the business plan, rather than waiting for a sale or better times. They've had very good experiences of startups finding a great business model by refocusing this way.
Heikki also commented they are being more careful about the investments currently. He argued in the early stage companies the team is the most important thing, so that the investors can trust the team knowing what they're doing. Heikki also went on explaining one notable difference with Finnish startups compared to Silicon Valley is in the executive team. The ideas are typically good, but the executive teams are much more juvenile than in the Valley, whereas the board is typically very experienced. So Heikki would rather see people like the board members doing the execution, mentioning he'd like to see people learning business in big global firms, and then establishing startups in their 40s. He explained while you can build a good startup regardless of your age, in the end it will take great skill in execution to take a startup from 5 Million to 10M, and futher to 50M in revenues.
The Finnish based mobile community game builder Ironstar Helsinki has opened a new country for their Moipal virtual world - Brazil. Moipal is a mobile based game that is a mix of Tamagotchi and Facebook. You play the game on your own, but there are interactions between the players.
Joakim Achrén, the CEO, told us that on many occasions there are hundreds of Brazilian players on the US site which confirmed him they need a local site in Brazil as well. The community management is handled from Brazil, but the hosting and other technicalities are still handled from Finland, says Joakim. They are also working on many small aspects to make the service more localised, such as Samba parties at the beach etc.
I had lunch today with ironstar helsinki's Joakim Achrén. Joakim is the CEO and they are building a cross platform virtual world that is mainly played on the mobile - it's called MoiPal. Ironstar helsinki is 9 men strong and they are located in Helsinki.
MoiPal has all the usual aspects of a social gaming application, profiles, personalisable rooms and characters, a facebook like profile page (to link to), virtual currency and lots more. Joakim managed to really surprise me how smooth the character moved on the mobile - no buggines at all. MoiPal could be described as a mixture of Facebook and Tamagotchi (I'd add Sims). The software runs on Java and they have three different versions for different phones.
You take care of your character by feeding her, washing her, exercising, etc to keep all the personal attributes in top notch condition. They've also put a lot of effort into making the whole system scalable. For example, you can do lots of things with the character in her own room without being connected online hence not accumulating a lot of data costs. Also, all the characters are clothable in different types of clothes available for purchase in the online shop. At the moment they have a deals with Warner music for example to cloth the characters in different band attire.
We also talked about the fact that where they see their focus geographically. Middle East, Russia and Far East Asia seem to interest them, which in my opinion is a very good call. There is a lot more competition in Asia, but their mobile usage is on a totally different level.
I was really impressed in the product, being a veteran of the gaming industry. I'm sure they will have lots of success with it.
There will be a special startup developers get together event in Helsinki on May 22. The purpose of the event is to exchange knowledge about technologies and conventions touching startup developers, and also to demonstrate students "how cool it is to run and work in a startup".
There's quite a good bunch of startup speakers participating, including Lare Lekman, CTO of Star Wreck Studios, Jani Luostarinen, System Administrator at Floobs, Joakim Achren, founder and CEO of Ironstar Helsinki (MoiPal service), and Taro Morimoto, CTO of Zipipop. After the afternoon event there will be an evening party as well, place to be declared later.
If you can't make it, you can see the live stream from Floobs. Sponsors are also sought after, so if you're interested, contact Kai Lemmetty @Floobs.